Yashinís Back, But Isles Still Looking for More Offense
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Staff Writer - NY Sports Day | Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Even though the New York Islanders didnít completely fall apart like many expected them to after they lost their captain and leading scorer Alexei Yashin for almost a month after suffering a knee injury against the Washington Capitals, they couldnít be happier to have him back.

Despite going 3-5 in Yashinís absence, the Islanders managed to keep themselves in playoff position, while getting key contributions from players like Viktor Kozlov, Mike Sillinger and Miroslav Satan, who were ice-cold when Yashin was healthy. Also astonishingly, Isles winger Jason Blake managed to continue his red-hot offensive production while Yashin was out, letting the fans and media know thatís he can still be a more than capable offensive player without his new found linemate.

Now with Kozlov, Sillinger and Satan playing their best hockey of the season and a healthy Yashin paired again with a surging Blake, the Islanders look to finally have found their enigmatic star a compatible linemate after nearly five years of trying everyone from Brad Isbister to Mariusz Czerkawski and now have no more excuses as to why they canít do more than hold their own in the Eastern Conference.

Coming off of a 6-0 rout of the struggling Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday- their first game with Yashin back in the lineup - the Isles washed away the memories of a dreadful 7-4 loss to the Penguins on Friday and look to continue their winning ways against their arch-rivals, the New York Rangers. "His [Yashinís] coming back was big," Islanders coach Ted Nolan told the Associated Press after the Atlanta game. "Alexei is a big part of our team, and you know he's missed when the guys keep asking when he's coming back."

While this weekend marked the return of one Islander favorite to the lineup, it also marked the loss of another, as defenseman Alexei Zhitnik was traded to the Flyers for another defenseman, 26-year old Freddy Meyer and a conditional third-round draft pick in the 2007 entry draft. Feeling that the move makes the Isles a better team on the ice and gives them flexibility in the salary cap, Islanders GM Garth Snow now has the chance to make a move that could get the team the extra offensive punch they need to stand tall in a division that players like Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Peter Forsberg, Evgeni Malkin and Sydney Crosby call home.

Newsday reported earlier in the week that Snow contacted former Ranger Brian Leetch over the summer in an effort to bring in some offense, but the former Norris trophy winner refused. Ironically, the Islander may even find themselves doing business with the Flyers again as Kyle Calder has appeared to have worn out his welcome in Philly, being a healthy scratch over the past few games.

The rumors donít end there either. According to the Palm Beach Post, Lightning GM Jay Feaster seems fed up with his players after their inconsistent play this season and has vowed to make a change. This may make defenseman Dan Boyle, who would be a welcome addition to the Islanders stagnant power-play this season, available and with the open room in the cap, the Isles will have the ability to offer him a long-term contract, giving them the pure offensive defenseman they havenít had since they let Roman Hamrlik sign with the Flames before last season.

Either way, the Zhitnik trade can still benefit the Isles even if they donít make another deal because they can still use the extra-cap space to try and keep Blake, who will be a free agent in the summer, on the team after this season.

Regardless of all the decisions Snow will be forced in make in the next few weeks and months, having a healthy, productive Yashin in the lineup makes things a little bit easier for the first-year GM and can give him the time to make a move that benefits the team the most.

Overall, the next few weeks in Islander country look to be ones bustling with rumors galore. Stay tuned.